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Scott Howard-Cooper

New Portland GM Neil Olshey is going to see how his roster shapes up before he picks a coach.
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Four Draft picks just the beginning for re-tooling Blazers

Posted Jun 26 2012 11:04AM

Others places will have a draft. The Trail Blazers are having a franchise-defining moment. This is more than two picks in the lottery and two more in succession in the second round at the NBA Draft on Thursday night in Newark, N.J. This is an entire franchise intersection.

New GM Neil Olshey is standing in the middle of it. He's a good person to have there -- experienced on all levels of basketball operations, a communicator, a man who just sorted through the pieces of the Clippers to build a roster that should endure.

The Clippers were built over some time, though. They lucked out when Chris Paul didn't become a Laker, then capitalized on the opening. They pounced when the Knicks amnestied Chauncey Billups. They signed Kenyon Martin away from several suitors and added Reggie Evans. Wanting to find a shooting guard to replace the injured Billups, they got in the middle of the Nuggets-Wizards deal at the deadline and landed Nick Young for Brian Cook and a second-rounder.

The Blazers' rebuild over the next few weeks will be an instant domino trail. There won't be a place in the NBA like it, with No. 6 in the Draft followed by No. 11 followed by 40 and 41. Then, in some order, a coaching hire, free agency, possible trades and 2006 first-rounder Joel Freeland potentially coming from Britain and the Spanish League to fill a gap at center. From zero to late-July in 5.2 seconds.

The Draft is the tipping point.

If the Trail Blazers take a center at 11 -- North Carolina's Tyler Zeller is Rip City-bound with that pick in the latest mock -- it changes the urgency of getting Freeland signed or him having an impact. Both sides have expressed interest in Freeland coming to the United States after playing for the host country in the London Olympics, but that could depend on what happens Thursday and into free agency next week.

If the Trail Blazers go point guard at 6 with Damian Lillard of Weber State (over Syracuse shooting guard Dion Waiters and Connecticut center Andre Drummond), that addresses the other pressing need. While they would still look at veterans in July, it would be more as complementary, less-expensive additions.

What happens by the end of their exhausting Thursday will trigger what happens with the coach. The plan all along, since Olshey's hiring on June 4, was to wait to see the direction of the roster before deciding who will lead the group.

"People may disagree with it, and I understand that. It's not the most-conventional way to do it," Olshey said. "I just think this is a players' league, and the roster composition and the type of player you have and the expectations you have based on those players dictate what you're looking for in a coach. There are a lot of very, very talented coaches and they're not all equipped to coach differing rosters. Some guys are better with veterans, some guys are better with young guys. Style of play is a big issue too, which nobody's talked about. It depends on how you are planning on playing based on the kind of players that you acquire. If you acquire players that are going to be more suited for up-tempo basketball, to me that's a different coaching search than if you're going to be a power, half-court team.

"I really do think that we're in a unique situation. I'll tell you this: If we had 12 players under contract right now and we had one pick in this draft, we would have hired a coach already. But you're talking about two lottery picks, the rights to a guy overseas, basically two restricted free agents and cap space ... there's just too many question marks about what this roster is going to look like."

Nicolas Batum, whom the Blazers extended a qualifying offer on Monday, is the biggest of their free agents. Portland's cap space could reach approximately $15 million, pending individual decisions. The Blazers could add significant pieces this summer or defer spending until 2013.

The next few weeks will depend on the next few days. And that makes this Portland draft so much more than just a draft.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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